Western Sydney’s biggest NRL stars were forced to pack-up their families and move north to Queensland in a bid to keep the 2021 season alive.
But the entire region, and the tight knight communities they come from, has never been too far from the hearts and minds of players.
Their message to loved ones, friends and fans back in Sydney: “Together we can get through this”.
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JUNIOR PAULO – PARRAMATTA EELS
Every time Parramatta powerhouse Junior Paulo runs out on the football field he takes all of southwest Sydney with him.
In the ultimate tribute to his southwest Sydney roots, Paulo has the postcode of Green Valley ‘2168’ tattooed on his back.
“I am proud of where I come from. I have the postcode 2168 tattooed on my back. I’m proud to carry that on my back and represent them every time I go out onto the field,” Paulo said.
“I’m taking every part of me, wherever I go. It’s always going to be home to me.
“To be able to do what I’m doing now and be a platform to represent everyone in that region is something that is really special to me.
“Growing up we were looked upon as a low socio-economic area. We were called “Westies”, labelled as ‘Housos’ when were growing up. So being able to play league at en elite level hopefully is giving something for the next generation to look up to and picturing themselves as successful one day and still remembering where they come from.”
Junior Paulo’s family are stuck in strict lockdown in Liverpool, and he is calling on the community to stick together.Source:Instagram
Paulo and his family live in Liverpool, where the residents are dealing with the city’s hardest lockdown rules.
“My parents, sisters, and all my family are in Liverpool. It is hard, they’re in the harshest lockdown. But we get, it is about controlling the pandemic,” Paulo said.
“It‘s a resilient area, the people are still trying to find a way to be happy and get by.
“We have to lean on each other, especially being locked down in our homes.
“There are mortgages to pay, rent to pay and put food on the table but I know people have been doing everything they can to help each get through.”
On Wednesday, the Eels forward was reunited with his wife and three kids for the first time in a month. Paulo first left their family home in Liverpool for NSW Blues camp in July and travelled straight from Kingscliff into Queensland as part of the NRL’s relocation.
“It’s really good for your mental state to be able to have our families near us,” Paulo said.
“We understand we are in a more privileged position than most, there have been much tougher outcomes for other people.
“We are fortunate and grateful the NRL is still going ahead. Being able to have the footy going gives everyone something to look forward too in these really tough times.”
James Tamou says the people in Western Sydney are some of the strongest he knows, and is confident they can get through this crisis together.Source:Supplied
JAMES TAMOU – WESTS TIGERS
In January last year, Tamou was on the frontline defending properties, including that of his in-laws, as bushfires ravaged the state’s south coast.
Three months later, the NRL was itself ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic and on the brink of extinction.
“You just have to focus on each challenge as it comes. Our family was affected by the fires and now we have family affected by the pandemic in western Sydney,” Tamou said.
“Like the fires, we’ve been trying to reach to make sure everyone is going OK. We have family friends that can’t work or run their business. It makes me really fortunate to be able to play NRL considering everything going on.”
Tamou moved to the region five years ago from Townsville after winning a premiership with the Cowboys.
James Tamou helped his community in Braidwood, fighting fires during the devastating NSW Bushfires in 2019-20.Source:Supplied
“If I’ve learned anything about Western Sydney since moving there is that the people are real fighters. Some of the strongest people I have met, it’s hard at the moment but we’ll get through this,” Tamou said.
“From playing for Penrith and now the Tigers, I know people from the west are tough.”
Tamou’s wife, Brittney travelled to Queensland with two of the couple’s four sons. The other two are staying on the NSW south coast farm Tamou helped save from the bushfires last summer.
“They love the farm, my oldest son goes wherever his Xbox goes and the youngest loves animals and being outside. We ask them if they miss mum and dad and the answer is always ‘no, we’re on the farm’,” Tamou said.
Canterbury Bulldogs player Ava Seumanufagai had to leave his daughter Isla in Sydney before moving to Queensland. Picture: Instagram.Source:Supplied
AVA SEUMANUFAGI – CANTERBURY BULLDOGS
With the uncertainty of Covid-19, Canterbury’s Ava Seumanufagi cut his time in the English Super League short and returned to Australian in December 2020 so he could be back with young daughter Isla.
Then the pandemic tore them apart. Relocating with the NRL and saying goodbye to Isla was a heartbreaking decision.
“When I found out, I was pretty heartbroken to be honest. I had just come back from playing in Leeds for 18 months. I actually cut that contract in England short so I could come home be close to her while she grows up,” Seumanufagi said.
“So having to go away again, I was gutted. I facetime her every day, that helps keep me going.”
Despite the setbacks and pandemic challenges, the people of Canterbury-Bankstown have rallied together in these trying times.
“They are doing it really tough. But there has still been a lot of support for our team even though we haven’t had the best year and people in the area aren’t doing too well either,” Seumanufagi said.
“But I still see the messages of support and hear stories of people going out of their way to help each other.”
Originally published asSydney Strong: NRL stars’ tributes to western Sydney families
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